Surprise EU lifting of ban on UK meat
Published 24/08/2007 | 08:41
The news that Britain will be allowed to resume live animal exports to EU countries has come as a shock, according to the vice chairman of the agriculture committee at Stormont.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott said Northern Ireland should consider imposing its own regulations to protect its foot-and- mouth free status after learning that live animal, meat and dairy exports from Britain are to resume tomorrow.
The ban was imposed in the wake of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Surrey, but Northern Ireland was exempted after taking strong biosecurity measures.
However, the British ban still posed problems for a number of companies operating in Northern Ireland, notably supermarkets selling ready meals made up in Britain and food companies taking products from Britain for further processing.
The relaxation of the ban will now apply to all parts of the UK except for the 10km surveillance zone in Surrey where both foot-and-mouth outbreaks were detected.
The European Commission said veterinary experts from the 27 EU member states supported the control measures taken by British authorities to contain the disease.
However, Mr Elliott expressed reservations, warning that relaxing the ban should be better considered.
"I have to say that this is a shock - it's something I hadn't contemplated," he said.
"I know the outbreak has been very much restricted but it's very early days. I have no problem with relaxing the ban on meat products but certainly I would be cautious about the live animal trade.
"I would be asking our Department to immediately meet and see if we could consider our own regulations within DARD. DARD should meet and look at the situation within Northern Ireland."
The Ulster Farmers Union described the news as another step towards normality for the agri-food industry.
"The Commission have clearly been impressed by the efficient way in which UK authorities were able to respond to the disease outbreak and contain the disease," UFU president Kenneth Sharkey said.
"It will ultimately be to the benefit of our local industry if the whole of the UK can return to normal trading as soon as possible."
More than two weeks have elapsed since the last reported outbreak in Surrey. The export of live animals, meat and dairy products will be carried out subject to strict controls and veterinary supervision.